Frantz Fanon’s message in Birmingham

I heard that the Frantz Fanon Centre in Birmingham closed in the last few weeks. Looking at the services it provided it seems we can ill-afford to be closing them down. Perhaps the prison service is preferred since that’s the place where those with mental illness end up.
I speak in ignorance because I don’t know the rationale for the move. A friend who was there however told me he spoke to someone who found the centre of value when he was depressed. He didn’t know where he could go now.
It has to be Birmingham UK where the name Fanon can be treated so lightly. When there is such deep concern and puzzlement about why black and minority ethnic groups have high proportions suffering mental health problems, you only have to look to Fanon to see the reason. He himself worked as a psychoanalyst in Algeria under French colonial rule. His job was to help patients return to normality. Except for them there was no normality as colonialism defined what this was or should be. Black Skin, White Masks was an early response.

In Birmingham we have seen it before. The Muhammad Ali Centre is a heap of rubble in the supposedly regenerated Soho area of the City. James Hunte invited Muhammad Ali to Birmingham on several occasions when the centre was opened but now James has returned to the Caribbean and the centre is in ruins. One evening I stood outside and noted a wide open door. I looked inside and saw tables set out with cloths as if there was to be an event. Except the place was ravaged by fire damage. I phoned the City Council there and then to ask that the place be secured. Just to show a little respect. Across the world Muhammad Ali was the personality of the Millennium, and this is how we celebrate it in Birmingham. Colonialism alive and well and Fanon’s message falling on deaf and uncomprehending ears.
Fanon’s name endures in Birmingham at the Afro-Caribbean Millennium Centre on Dudley Road. My friend and colleague Phil Murphy has a deep interest as a philosopher and was instrumental in setting upa research unit in Fanon’s name.
I have also placed a stick of dynamite on a website concerning black and minority ethnic mental health. This is about a project designed to help build the capacity of community-based organisations to compete for the commissioning of services. The government says it wants the involvement of the community, and the health service confirms this. Except with the demise of grants and a huge gap many groups have vanished through lack of support! Rhetoric’s a fine thing. To successfully compete you have to take on big establishments in line with New Labour’s Thatcherite principles. The idea that the government is part of the cause of poverty while endlessly insisting that it wants to tackle inequalities shows an inability to attain the “joined up thinking” it also espouses.

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